Anxiety at NASA as Mars InSight spacecraft nears the Red Planet


Having launched on May 5, 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California as it enters the atmosphere of Mars, InSight will be traveling at 14,100 miles per hour.

It will take weeks for InSight to get started on its primary work, and months to years for the mission to get solid science results about the interior of Mars, but that is the kind of mission that we've signed on to with this lander.

"Mars is hard", said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for the science mission directorate, on Sunday.

"Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the Solar System".

The lander is also equipped with a robotic arm that it will use to place HP³ and RISE on the surface of the planet.

NASA handout shows illustration of simulated view of the In Sight probe about to land on Mars
NASA handout shows illustration of simulated view of the In Sight probe about to land on Mars

Earth's success rate at Mars is just 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the US, Russia and other countries dating back to 1960.

An undated handout illustration made available by NASA shows a simulated view of NASA's InSight lander descending towards the surface of Mars on its parachute.

The InsSight Mars Lander is a NASA Spacecraft which has taken almost 10 years and cost almost $1billion dollars to make.

This information will tell us a lot about how Mars formed, which, in turn, will add to the information of how rocky planets, including our own Earth, typically develop.

The stationary probe, launched in May from California, will then pause for 16 minutes for the dust to settle, literally, around its landing site, before disc-shaped solar panels are unfurled like wings to provide power to the spacecraft.

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Speeding faster than a bullet at 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph), the heat-shielded spacecraft encounters scorching frictions as it enters Mars' atmosphere.

The descent will take just over 6 minutes, less than the "7 minutes of terror" made famous by the Curiosity rover.

Here's what's supposed to happen: About 90 minutes before atmosphere entry, mission managers will send the latest tracking information to the probe, so it will know where it is and how fast it is traveling.

Half a second later: The lander's retrorockets (or descent engines) fire up.

The area where InSight is landing is called Elysium Planitia, a particularly flat area of Mars where hazardous loose rocks are absent.

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The entry, descent, and landing phases will each emit a slightly different radio frequency, enabling engineers to track InSight's progress.

InSight could hand NASA its eighth win.

The 800-pound, solar-powered InSight is also the first deep-space vehicle to launch from the U.S. West Coast. The mission includes two small cube satellites trailing the probe, which are created to help relay real-time data from the craft back to earth, faster than a NASA satellite orbiting Mars could.

So what do we know about the InSight robot, which is armed to the teeth with scientific instruments? The lander has three main scientific instruments: the shielded seismometer that Curiosity tweeted about, a "mole" that's created to burrow down as far as 15 feet and take Mars' temperature below ground, and a radio transponder that can make precise measurements of Mars' movements. The thee-legged, one-armed InSight will operate from the same spot for the next two years.

The lander will touch down on Mars at 3pm ET (8pm GMT), on Monday, November 26. By making careful measurements of how the frequency of the radio waves change, we will be able to measure the degree to which Mars wobbles as it rotates.

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